One of my good friends from medical school has three children between the ages of 7 months and 5 years. When it came time for her to go back to residency after her first maternity leave*, she and her husband were faced with the inevitable question of who would take care of the child. From a financial perspective, it made much more sense for him to stay home, so they decided to go against the societal norm and make him the stay-at-home parent.
Now three children into the process, it seems to be working very well for them. My friend thrives on her work as a physician and earns enough to support the family, while her husband (mostly) enjoys being the primary caregiver. Whenever I visit, he is the person that the children go to first, whether for food or comfort or just to whine about one of their many grievances.
Although the arrangement is mostly good, it does come with its own set of challenges. While there is a huge network of supports available to mothers from the beginning of pregnancy onwards (exercise classes for pregnant moms, lactation groups, mom-and-baby programs), there is very little for fathers who choose to stay home with their kids. There's the constant judgement of women who choose not to stay home with their children. And then there's the never ending societal narrative that says that women should be the caregivers, not men. It's present in ads for baby products that feature only mothers, in the language we use to describe parenting (e.g. talking about fathers who "help" with the kids or who "babysit" them when the mother is away), and in the way we label restrooms for parents with kids as "Mommy and Me" restrooms.
Even though I don't have children, and probably never will, these things frustrate me to no end. They frustrate me because they make it unnecessarily hard for fathers to stay home with their children, even when that's what works best for their families. They frustrate me because they perpetuate the idea that a woman's role is to raise the children, regardless of whether she would prefer to be in the workforce. And they frustrate me because they limit us to traditional gender roles, even though two X chromosomes don't automatically make a person a better parent than an X and a Y.
We have to start doing better.
*Unlike in the States, Canada has a great parental leave policy that allows the mother and/or father to take a combined total of 50 weeks of partially paid leave.